About year and two-and-a-half months ago today, I made a one-night’s stop in Hiroshima, Japan. It was all too brief, but memorable in a way that will likely be etched in my brain until I leave this earth. And I was just one of thousands of pilgrims to its Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and Park passing through daily, this on a quiet, cloudy Friday afternoon and evening.
Tomorrow will be a bigger day there, with the marking of the 75th anniversary of the city’s destruction by an American atomic bombing.
A bit of background, since I had not previously discussed anything about my trip on this site: I visited Hiroshima during a two-week tour of Japan in May 2019, on a personal visit. More specifically, I had scheduled a trip to the city to come after three days in Kyoto, about an hour-and-a-half away by a Shinkansen bullet train, and before a trip to a major art festival in the Seto Inland Sea, about four hours away trains and a ferry. I had to leave Kyoto later than I expected, however, and thus everything had to go right on my trip over to be able to see much of museum. But it did go right.
I will keep my feeling about things relatively brief here, in comparison to my journal, where I went on and on and on about the visit. One big of the entry stands out, however: A part where I mention finding myself frozen after reading about a girl’s being stuck in concrete and steel rubble after the bombing, unable to get out while suffering from a compound leg fracture, maggots around the wounds. I could relate, having suffered two compound leg fractures when I was younger. I could feel that pain, imagine the horror of being unable to get immediate aid, out in the humid August air. So I just stood there for a second, with hundreds of other visitors swarming around me, before telling myself to snap out of it and move on.
In my journal, I continued, “Now, upon thinking about this later, I wondered whether this (part of the) exhibit had anything to say about the horrors of nuclear war, specifically. Would such a story stemming from the Tokyo firebombing be any easier to take? What about a more recent drone bombing?”
My answer was partly that the overwhelming nature of the event, and the lack of any warning, maybe made this worse. (Not sure I agree with that now.) Otherwise, I thought the museum’s stressing, toward the end, of the need for world nuclear disarmament and consistent pushing for peace made telling the story here important by or through association.
Today, I read that today’s local officialdom has continued the tradition of speaking out in favor of peace and anything that leads to aggressive militarization and war, anywhere on Earth, this time with its mayor speaking out against “self-centered nationalism.” In so doing, the mayor was partly speaking to a domestic audience, given a rise in Japanese nationalism over the past few years, but also an international audience, given a rise in nationalism throughout Eastern Europe, and in China, Russia, and the United States, among so many other countries.
Hiroshima was not the only place where I saw the horrors of war, or anti-war messages during my visit. To the contrary, a week earlier, I visited a huge exhibit of war photography, with prints of shots taken over several decades, from all the major populated continents in Tokyo. The pro-peace message was much the same there as well.
Learning about the seemingly unending horror of what happened in just a short time in Hiroshima, however, had a cumulative effect. This came from going through parts of the exhibit about aftereffects including radioactive “black rain” and the early deaths of people who survived the bombing as children and such. (I had a hard time with evening beginning to watch some episodes of the HBO Chernobyl series, after getting home.)
Outside, however, in the gorgeous Peace Memorial Park people were cycling, jogging, hanging out. Adults led groups of uniformed school children around.
I stopped by my hotel after a bit, then went back out and had oysters (big local thing–these, shown below, were”grilled cheese oysters”) at a lovely little sidewalk cafe about half-a-block from the hypocenter of the bombing.
I had a couple of drinks back at the hotel, then sat up in my tiny room, trying to figure out Japanese broadcasts of game shows and noh theater. I woke up the next day, walked around and gawked at all the usual array of English signs around, even in a supermarket, a “Joe’s American Deep Dish Cafe” on a main drag, and so forth, and the ever-impressive (don’t think I’m joking) array of consumer offerings in the 7-11 where I picked up fancy doughnuts and coffee. By 9:30 a.m, I was gone. But I will always remember.